CLIMB: Grosse Scheidegg (1962m)
Route: Loop (clockwise)
A hidden gem in the Bernese Alps
The Jungfrau Region in the Bernese Alps is not known as a road cycling destination. But the Grosse Scheidegg is quickly becoming a cult climb in Switzerland. For good reasons: it’s steep, it’s long, it offers spectacular views on surrounding peaks and the road is closed to motorized traffic on its top section. Isn’t it featured on the cover of the book Mountain Higher by Daniel Friebe and Pete Goding, a reference for the discerning alpine cyclist?
Dan and Janine live near Interlaken, where this loop starts. Dan first took me on the Grosse Scheidegg during the Swiss CrissCross and we climbed it from Interlaken. It was... brutal. After Grindelwald, you climb for 6.5 km at an 11% average gradient. I prefer the east side from Meiringen: it is longer but less relentless and the traffic is minimal from the start, whereas the main road between Interlaken and Grindelwald is best ridden downhill.
Done clockwise, the loop starts with a 15km cruise along the turquoise waters of the Brienzersee, followed by a flat section across fields and a military airport to Meiringen (km 29). The town is famous for two reasons: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional hero Sherlock Holmes died in the nearby Reichenbach Falls, and it is where the meringue was allegedly invented around 1600. If you stop for coffee and decide to taste this local specialty made with egg whites and sugar, be warned: the climb to the Grosse Scheidegg starts straight out of the town.
Fill your bottles at the fountain on the right shortly after the roundabout and enjoy the mellow start: after 2 km, a sharp right turn takes you on a narrow road, which you won't leave until you get to Grindelwald on the other side. The gradient is immediately in the double digits as you climb in the woods. Then you reach a welcome flattish section before Rosenlaui (km 41). Although you’ve been climbing for 10 km and have already gained 700 meters, this is where the Grosse Scheidegg really starts for me. From then on, you climb surrounded by alpine walls and glaciers towering 1700 meters above; after Schwarzwaldalp, motorized traffic is not allowed with the exception of the public PostAuto buses. When you hear their distinctive horn every half hour or so, make sure you give them space: they won’t stop for you.
The final switchbacks under the Wetterhorn (3,962m) are spectacular. Stop for pictures, your legs and your Instagram will thank you. At km 49, you reach the top (1,962m) and discover the most famous north face in the Alps: the Eiger.
Make sure you refuel and rehydrate as the descent is tricky: it’s steep, there are many turns and the road surface does not always meet the Swiss perfection standards… not to mention the occasional cow pie. As you enter Grindelwald, the Hotel Wetterhorn (km 55) marks the end of the traffic free road. Have a break, let your brakes cool down and think of the 2011 Tour de Suisse: on this descent, Peter Sagan came back from nowhere to catch Damiano Cunego and win stage 3 in Grindelwald. You’ll find footage on YouTube, just don’t watch it before the ride.
Enjoy the rest of the descent back to Interlaken and finish with a cold brew at the Velo Cafe in town. I’ll leave the last words to our friend Will on his respected Cycling Challenge website: "I would happily put either side of Grosse Scheidegg on any top ten list of great Alpine cycling climbs. Both sides are very challenging …. and unbelievably beautiful ». Amen to that.
While tempting to look heroic on Strava, you’ll regret not stopping for the views of what is certainly one of the most stunning road rides in the world. At the very least, sit in the sun for a few minutes on the Grosse Scheidegg pass itself and soak in what you are amongst.
Approaching Rosenlaui on a spring ride
Feeling small under the huge face of the Wetterhorn
Autumn is the best season to ride in the Alps
You can see ALPSinsight's own Alain Rumpf and Dan Patitucci ride the Grosse Scheidegg in this video by Scott Bikes.
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